Sunday, May 22, 2005


This Year's First First - And Another First

Saturday, I finished first for the first time in this competition season, at the Colonial Highland Gathering in Fair Hill, MD. The 1st place finish (field of 15?) was for the 2/4 March contest, the only contest held for Grade IV Sr. The judge thought my tuning was good and my blowing steady, and my execution over all very good. My expression was a little lacking, and I have to agree with him. They were picking pipers out of order, and though I was warmed up, I was waiting by the steward to find out how much more time I had, I wasn't quite ready to go yet! As a result, my first part was a tad rough.

But I'm happy with the result, and after a quick jaunt to Eastern Market for groceries, I (still in my piping outfit) headed to a fiddle jam at Potomac Overlook park. It was a lot of fun, but it was a general fiddle jam, and they played a lot of Irish and old-timey repertoire I don't yet know. I think this is going to be a regular event, though.

Today I played my first gig with City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums. I made a few errors on stage, mainly regarding spacing myself relative to my bandmates. But that's a beginner's thing. It was quite the challenge to play in full dress, especially striking in and cutting off, and between not being able to see the drum major's baton over the feather bonnets, and not being able to hear his commands over the noise, it made for a challenging day. But I did pretty well all in all, a good first time out.

I am so extremely tired now. It's gonna be hard to get any fiddle practice in...

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Pictures from the Houston Highland Games

A few pictures my father took of me at the Houston Highland Games:

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Nationals, Take 2

Last weekend, I competed in my second U.S. National Scottish fiddle championship. As expected, I didn't place. It was a much bigger field, 10 contestants, and former National and Junior National champions locked up all four places.

I got nervous again, but my technique had improved so much over the last two weeks that all in all, I think I put in a good show. I lost the tune in the A-part of Banks the second time through, but made up stuff and stayed on beat until I could recover. Despite the nerves and messing up a tune, I feel I did very well, and one of the judges, Janny Kirk (who had judged me last year), said that my performance this year was a huge leap over last year's. That's good to hear; it's hard to gauge incremental improvement from people who hear you frequently, but a discerning listener who hears you once a year is a good measure of how far one has come.

Almost as flattering, a gentleman with a thick Scottish accent tapped me on the shoulder after my set, and said that my strathspey and reel sounded "very Scottish, I loved your lilt". That's what I'm going for. I may not have the technique down 100%, and I may not be the most confident competitor, but I think I get the style.

The pipe contests were more successful. I took a 2nd in the 2/4 march and a 4th in piobaireachd, and was just a few small fingering and timing flubs, and some small blowing and tuning issues away from winning both contests. I know what to concentrate on for the rest of the season, but I'm feeling good so far.

This was also the weekend of the massive site update. I love the new logos.

Monday, May 09, 2005


The decisions we make at 3 AM

I woke up at 3 AM on Saturday morning to get ready to go to the Bridgeport Highland Games in Bridgeport, WV. Pipe contests in 2/4, 6/8, and a rarity for Grade IV, piobaireachd full score - which means double aggregate points for the year. An hour or so getting ready, and then 4 hours on the road, stay at the games until the score sheets were out, back on the road, home by 4 PM or so.

I quickly decided, instead, that I'd rather spend the next 5 hours in bed.

I got some practice in over the weekend, but I mostly followed up on the song sets Anders and I recorded, practicing the vocal and fiddle parts to Cairn O' Mount and Sergeant Where's Mine.

My competition set on fiddle is sounding pretty good, and I'm hitting the hard technical points more and more reliably. Another week of preparation, and I'm hoping to put on a good show at Nationals next weekend.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


First Competition of '05... Blues or Euphoria?

Anders was in town to rehearse the band material last weekend, and we decided to work on songs this time. On Saturday and Sunday, we came up with the basic arrangement of three songs we plan to perform, Cairn O' Mount, Sergeant Where's Mine, and The Mosstrooper's Lament. We also came up with the main instrumental solos for the first two songs (The Bonniest Lass in the World, and Hector the Hero, respectively). On Saturday, I sang, and on Sunday, Anders recorded guitar tracks for all three songs for me to practice along with. As with my fiddle, my vocals need intonation work, so the guitar tracks should give me a good guide to develop muscle memory. All in all, Anders says he likes my voice, and compares me to former bandmate "Wolf Loescher - without the extreme sinus congestion!" (whose condition must be pretty severe, because allergies were killing me this weekend). We recorded Cairn O' Mount with my vocals as well, and Anders is going to run it through auto-pitch correction to produce a "Britney-ized" (or is that "Ashlee-ized"?) version of my performance, to get an idea of what I'll sound like a little down the road when my pitch sense is better, as well as a guitar-only version of the track for me to practice to.

It was also the first competition of the weekend for me. On Saturday morning, we drove in heavy rain to Calvert County, MD, for the Southern Maryland Highland Games. First up was the pipe contest. I managed to convince the stewards to move me up in the roster, so I'd have plenty of time to make it to the fiddle contest and warm up. I played my piobaireachd first, and did quite well. There was a single choke, and the judge thought I played a tad slowly, but liked the tone and low pitch of my pipes, and thought my blowing was otherwise steady. I ended up taking 2nd place. This was quite the victory for me, since I'm usually fairly weak on piobaireachd. On the 2/4 march contest, I was forced to play even earlier than I'd thought I'd have to (they couldn't find the guy before me), and my reed hadn't warmed back up enough, so my high hand was sharp. Also, the judge felt that I played too slowly for the tune - I agree, but it's competition! We're supposed to play slowly! He liked my expression, thought my blowing was slightly unsteady, thought my heavy d-doublings were a bit too open, and thought I was slowing down just a tad at the end phrases. Except for the last bit, it was a fair assessment, and though I scored well, I didn't place.

Then there was the fiddle contest. Warming up downstairs from the competition, I was brilliant. And then I got to the contest, and my tuning fell apart. The room was poorly ventilated, and the body heat and humidity played havoc with the gut strings, which were also new (and thus less stable). On top of this, my d-string peg kept slipping, and one of the other contestants tried to relate an anecdote to me in the middle of my arduous retuning process in front of the judge, who was my teacher, Elke. Add to this the fact that I had zero sleep the night before (allergies plus over-affectionate cat). So I got rattled from the outset, and I bombed my performance. Granted, I'm at the stage where my "crash and burn" earns me a respectable 3rd place, but I did come behind a fiddler who - though with lots of classical experience - was a first year student and first time competitor. So needless to say, I've been beating myself up over that since. Even Elke said that, had I played my very challenging set the way I "had it in my head", I would have cleaned up. Hopefully, though, I am over the hump of the "first competition nerves" for this year, and will do better at my next contest in Houston.

I can't win 'em all, but I should have taken at least 2nd in this contest. I consider myself sufficiently chastened.

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